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State time arrives for Grangers

It’s go time for the LaGrange Grangers.

The Grangers, who haven’t played in nearly two weeks, will be at home against the Bainbridge Bearcats on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the second round of the Class AAAA state soccer playoffs.

It has been another successful season for the Grangers, who have thrived under the leadership of head coach Shane Pulliam, who took over the program in 2018.

The one thing the Grangers haven’t been able to do in recent years is advance past the second round, and they’ll have a chance to change that on Thursday.

If LaGrange beats Bainbridge, it would play Druid Hills or East Hall in the next round with a spot in the final four on the line.

LaGrange, which had a first-round bye in the state tournament, hasn’t played since it beat Smiths Station 4-0 on April 16 to wrap up the regular season.

The Grangers (12-6 overall), who won the Region 2-AAAA championship, have had plenty of time to prepare for their playoff opener.

“We had a lot of time to almost have another preseason,” Pulliam said. “We worked on some fitness, and we worked on just where we want people to be in different areas of the field.”

This is familiar territory for LaGrange, which also made it to the second round of the state playoffs in 2018 and 2019 before losing to an always formidable Marist team.

This year, there is no Marist standing between LaGrange and a spot in the final eight, although Bainbridge does come into the game with momentum.

Bainbridge, the number three team from Region 1-AAAA, advanced to the second round with a 5-3 road win over Spalding County.

“They’ve already put their season on the line and won,” Pulliam said. “We haven’t been in that position yet. Hopefully we can respond well.”

While the Grangers have yet to face a do-or-die game, they have been tested throughout the season.

LaGrange has played a challenging schedule that includes elite teams in Georgia and Alabama, including Dalton, Vestavia Hills, McIntosh, Starr’s Mill, and Auburn.

LaGrange also beat a strong Columbus team 1-0 to win the region championship.

“I think we’ve played a good enough schedule to be ready for this,” Pulliam said. “Bainbridge hasn’t played anybody like we have. I think that gives us an advantage experience-wise, and there’s all the other stuff we do, the three vs. three, going to nationals, having to play at a high level. Hopefully all that pans off to help us.”

The Grangers haven’t had any problems putting the ball in the net this season.

The Grangers are averaging more than four goals per game, with Pearson Knight (17 goals) and Tripp Hollstrom (16 goals) leading the way, and Davis Knight is also in double digits in goals with 10.

LaGrange has also excelled defensively, giving up 1.4 goals per game, and senior goal keeper Cason Blackburn has been exceptional this season.

Another strength for the Grangers is the team depth, which Pulliam believes could play in his team’s favor in Thursday’s game.

“I thought last year we had the ability to go a long way, with the depth we had,” Pulliam said. “We’ve had to develop depth this year. I think we’re there with the people that are starting to play well coming in. They don’t have a lot of depth. I think we can play 14 or 15 guys, and still maintain a pretty high level. I don’t think they can really go beyond 12. Hopefully that’ll help.”

LAGRANGE VS. BAINBRIDGE

WHAT: Second round of Class AAAA state playoffs

WHEN: Thursday, 5 p.m.

WHERE: Callaway Stadium